NFL’s “broken system” of minority hiring can be fixed in only two ways

NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent admits that the league’s minority hiring system is broken. Ultimately, there are only two ways to truly fix it.

First, the NFL needs more minority owners. That’s far easier said than done, however.

For starters, teams rarely are available to be purchased. When they are, they’re ridiculously expensive, and they’re getting more expensive all the time. Only a small handful of people can afford a team. There are very few minorities with the ten-or-eleven-figure net worth needed to buy the minimum equity and write the checks necessary to make payroll and otherwise run the team.

Second, there’s a hard truth the NFL must face: One team needs to be sued for racial discrimination before the other teams will fully and completely realize the downside of failing to implement meaningful measures to promote diversity.

Litigation is society’s great equalizer. It’s why corporate interests promote candidates who will appoint judges who are more likely to tip the scale in favor of big business. It’s why Chambers of Commerce relentlessly attack jurisdictions that promote fair treatment of individuals who seek justice from those with money, power, and influence as “judicial hellholes.” It’s why more and more corporations obsess over forcing every potential dispute with an employee or customer away from a jury and into the hands of an arbitrator.

It was the threat of litigation, spearheaded by Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran, that prompted the NFL to adopt the Rooney Rule in 2002. And the Rooney Rule has helped the league avoid litigation for a full generation. Given the unique nature of the industry — 32 teams bound together by a league office — no one has been willing to trade his future NFL career by taking a stand in court against one of its teams.

That day could be coming, especially in light of the public candor that people like NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent are displaying. Consider these comments Vincent made to Peter King of Football Morning in America: “The facts are, we have a broken system . . . Do I take it personal? Yes I do. It’s my responsibility as a professional athlete, as a man of color, as someone who bleeds the National Football League, bleeds football, it’s part of our responsibility to continue what we believe is right for our game. . . . [S]itting in these meetings, listening, hearing people give different excuses, like: ‘This is not the right platform’or ‘Troy, Commissioner, I hear what you’re trying to do — not sure this is the right vehicle but we understand.’ Those are the same words that they told people in my community in the fifties, the forties, about integration of school systems, housing — but not giving us any solutions.”

Those are words that Mehri or some other lawyer would make the centerpiece of a closing argument, and that’s without Vincent being placed under oath and cross examined aggressively for even more damning admissions as to whether he believes the NFL hiring process are and have been infected for years by racial bias.

Plenty of businesses learn valuable lessons about proper practices and polices only after experiencing a lawsuit from inception to settlement or verdict. The current challenge for the NFL will be to anticipate what may be coming — especially with Vincent poised to be, consciously or not, the key witness for the plaintiff — and to act before suffering the financial and P.R. fallout of a judge and a jury finding that one or more teams have engaged in illegal discrimination on the basis of race.

Last week’s dalliance with a “diversity boost” in the form of enhancing draft status for teams that hire minority head coaches or General Managers suggests that someone, somewhere in the league understands that the time has come for drastic action. Although tying improved placement in the draft to hiring minority candidates goes too far, the clock is ticking loudly on the league and its teams to make meaningful changes that will both improve minority hiring and provide the kind of evidence that will push back against incriminating comments that keep piling up as the league office tries to get the 32 teams to fix the admittedly “broken system.”

The longer it takes for a fix to be made, the greater the chance that one or more teams will have to answer for the situation as defendants in a landmark case brought under federal or state civil rights laws.

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